Good nutrition before, during and after pregnancy is vital to ensure the health of the mother and the best possible development of the baby.
Folic Acid, neural tube defects and pregnancy
The neural tube is the embryo’s precursor to the central nervous system, which comprises the brain and spinal cord. A neural tube defect will occur if there is an interference with the closure of the neural tube, which occurs around the 28th day after fertilization. The most common neural tube defect is Spina bifida; incomplete formation of the spine leaves a gap or split in the spinal column, resulting in damage which may cause mobility difficulties, bladder and bowel problems and, in severe cases, paralysis.
The Scottish Spina Bifida Association has expressed concern that the number of babies being born with a neural tube defect is growing; 15 pregnancies in Scotland have been affected by Spina bifida since January, double the usual number.
Taking folic acid supplements is the only known way to reduce the risk of neural tube defects. Research has demonstrated 60% to 100% reductions in cases of neural tube defects when women consume folic acid supplements in addition to a varied diet preconception (about one month before and one month after conception).
Current advice is that if you are pregnant or thinking of having a baby you should take a daily 400µg folic acid supplement from the time you stop using contraception until the 12th week of pregnancy.
Iron is needed as a result of the increase in the volume of blood in the mother’s body. The fetus also stores enough iron to last through the first few months of life. A supplement of 15mg of elemental iron is suggested.
The foetus’s growing skeleton demands 300mg of calcium each day. The UK currently recommends 700mg/day with an additional 550mg during lactation. Because vitamin D is required for the utilisation of calcium, a supplement of 5μg daily is recommended.
Taking probiotics during pregnancy and administering them directly to infants in their first six months of life may reduce the risk of atopic eczema by up to 50%; this is because exposure to bacteria postnatally influences the development of the immune system.